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NASA to launch Jamestown artifact, coins

January 31, 2007 — The 17th-century metal worker who prepared a tag to mark cargo heading for the New World could have never imagined that his craftsmanship would eventually be leaving the planet.

Upon completion of its journey however, his small metal marker etched with the name of its destination, "Yames Towne" will have logged more than four million miles over four centuries, traveling from England to the early American settlement and then, 400 years later, on a round trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA is flying the tag, along with four commemorative coins to honor early American explorers. They will be onboard space shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-117, targeted for launch in March.

The metal cargo tag was unearthed this past summer at Jamestown, the location of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas in 1607. The colonial version of a modern-day luggage tag, the plaque was probably marking some merchandise that had been warehoused in London before being shipped, according to the Historic Jamestowne website.

"The odd 'Y' spelling may suggest a German or Dutch origin for the goods as those languages represented 'j's with 'y's during this time period," the site reports.

It was found at the bottom of a well at the site of James Fort on Jamestown Island. The tag, attached to a crate or trunk, most likely arrived from England around 1611.

"This artifact clearly marks Jamestown as a destination our nation's first 'address.' It demonstrates the development of trade patterns crucial to the survival of the colony," said William Kelso with the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Kelso leads the Jamestown Rediscovery Project that has unearthed more than one million artifacts at the site.

Two sets of Jamestown-themed coins, authorized by Congress and recently issued by the U.S. Mint, also will fly aboard Atlantis.

The tag and coins were presented to NASA Langley Research Center Director Lesa Roe by Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra at AeroSpace Day in Richmond on Wednesday.

"This exploratory shuttle flight connects our adventurous past with the innovation and continued intellectual curiosity that guides our future as we commemorate America's 400th anniversary," said Governor Tim Kaine.

"Remembering the spirit of adventure that led to the establishment of Jamestown is appropriate as this country works toward establishing a permanent outpost on another planetary body," said Roe.

Each commemorative coin set contains a $5 gold piece and a silver dollar with visual references to Jamestown's legacies. When returned from space, NASA will present one set to Kaine for display at Jamestown Settlement, a 17th century living history museum. The second set will be displayed at the National Park Service's visitor center at Historic Jamestowne.

NASA will return the shipping tag to Historic Jamestowne for display in its Archaearium, a new museum for items unearthed during excavations over the past 13 years that include the long lost remains of James Fort. The fort was believed to have eroded into the James River.

STS-117 will deliver the second and third starboard truss segments (S3/S4) and another pair of solar arrays to the International Space Station.

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